Hippoi Athanatoi

Too Much Excitement

Yesterday's lesson was...exciting, courtesy of the temperature (-10). Most of the horses were on their toes and that definitely included Barka. I do get a bit nervous when a horse is tense and it feels like you're sitting on top of the horse instead of sitting into it. That usually leads to me tensing up and then the horse tenses more and, well, bad feedback loop ensues. Add cold weather to that and you're piling tension on top of tension. That said, it was Barka and so far my experience with her is that she doesn't do anything too stupid. She has a pretty sensitive mouth and she certainly doesn't seem inclined to do too much more than a bit of a bounce before she settles again. Fortunately, that turned out to be largely correct. We had a few incidents, including when cantering over a single rail on the ground apparently called for what felt like a rather substantial buck, but nothing that was a close call.

As for actual work, it was a bit spotty. A lot of my energy went into keeping Barka's mind on the work and off, well, everything else. Some very nice trot from her again and more struggling with the canter transitions. Apparently she is also a bit too clever (and a mare, at that); they did a similar exercise yesterday and she picked up some bad habits from a single slip-up by that rider who at one point failed to keep her from joining the horses waiting in the middle instead of continuing down the length of the arena. As a result, she slammed the brakes on me a few times and refused to continue. Given how frisky she was, I had put my whip aside, which of course she took full advantage of. Mares.

Still, when we finished off with some trot at the end, she finally started lowering her form and breathing out audibly. You could just feel the tension melting away. That just took 60 minutes of work. I am hoping that if I jump her next week, she has done some more lessons earlier in the day. Though I am thinking not, she's probably a bit too much for the lower groups to handle in winter.
Hippoi Athanatoi

Back on Barka

Time to give this another go, without putting any demands on myself to do it every week. But I do miss doing my lesson recaps and for a good while, at least, they did seem to help me improve as well.

Yesterday was the first lesson of the new semester for me (I missed the first week) and I ended up on the lovely Barka. I had a feeling the cold and the snow would make her frisky and that turned out to be the correct assumption. Fortunately, frisky for her goes more up than forward (not up as in on her hind legs or anything, but she gets rather high-stepping and bouncy) so I feel quite confident in handling her anyway. I was a bit bothered by how much she was tossing her head around, however. It was more than when I last rode her, and though the instructor said its common when she's frisky, I did ask if perhaps her mouth should be looked at since she had been reluctant to take the bit when I bridled her. That was definitely new behaviour, so I wouldn't be surprised if she's got some tooth issue. That said, the head shaking did stop once I got her to think about working and she spent some of that excess energy on more fruitful endeavours.

Other than that, she's a very positive horse. She's definitely got her own opinions -- hello, mare -- but she can certainly be persuaded to give work a good try. The exercises we worked on also suited her quite well; we focused on shortening and lengthening while keeping a steady rhythm and it gave her a lot to think about. The end result was an absolutely divine trot. The walk is still tricky to get good extension in and we only did a little cantering so I didn't get very far with that. Her right canter is not great to start with and my transitions to canter remain a bit of a weakness (I move too much, especially if the horse goes against the aids like she did), so I am hoping for a bit more time next lesson to work on that. Once you actually get her cantering forward properly, she has a nice, round canter.

I am really hoping to get the opportunity for some private lessons on her during this semester; so far we seem to suit each other quite well.
Hippoi Athanatoi

The End is Here

A Memory of Light, the last Wheel of Time book, is out. It feels really, really strange, and -- unfortunately -- not in a good way. There's nothing wrong with endings being bitter sweet, but in this case, I feel a lack of closure.

Before A Song of Ice and Fire took over mine and Elio's life, the Wheel of Time had a huge place in it. In fact, we would not have met without it. I didn't actually pick up the series right away when the first book came out in 1990, but I believe I bought the paperback for myself for Christmas 1992 (I know it coincided with the publication of the first book in Swedish, since I actually ended up getting that as a present at the same time) and I was completely hooked right away. When I got on the Internet in 1995, it did not take long for me to find my way to a WoT MUSH called Tales of Ta'veren. From that MUSH, I discovered Elendor, a Tolkien MUSH, and there I met Elio. I got him to start reading WoT in order to join me on Tales. For a number of years, we poured over every word written by RJ, trying to figure out what various prophecies meant, piecing together esoteric details of the One Power and discussing just who was the best Blademaster around. I even wrote a letter with questions to RJ and received a response.

Yes, our interest did soften a bit as the story meandered, but my love for the world stayed strong. In part because we continued to roleplay in it, but the premise of the Wheel of Time is also completely irresistible to me. Myths, legends, time being circular and everything eventually coming back, it was all rather tailor-made for my interests and it was such a thrill every time I caught a reference or had one pointed out to me. That, more than anything else, is at the core of my love for the series. But I do have a weakness for structured magic systems as well and the One Power fascinated me.

Then RJ died. I remember finding out late one night or early one morning and waking up Elio to tell him. It felt very sad and very strange, but I don't think the real impact actually hit me until the first collaboration with Sanderson came out. I just couldn't read it. I didn't know what came from RJ and what came from Sanderson and I simply could not stand constantly feeling "is this the real version?". So, I have not read any of the books since RJ died. I've even had a hard time reading spoilers, because it just constantly brings back what's been lost.

I do think I will want to read the epilogue of A Memory of Light, since RJ always said he'd had that one written or at least planned out for years. But the rest? I don't know. Maybe I will try, since RJ did want to see the series completed. But still, I would have preferred to just have his notes published, similar to how Tolkien's unfinished materials were treated. No matter how big a fan Sanderson is and no matter how much he may have tried to write what RJ would have wanted, he isn't RJ. He's not the Creator and his version of the story will always be a certain amount of guess work.

I don't want his guesses, I just want the "truth", and today I am feeling really sad that reality cruelly got in the way of the story and kept RJ from finishing his work the way he intended to. There's closure to the story, as I do imagine it ended much like RJ intended it to end, but on a purely personal level there's no real closure to my experience of reading the books. Even so, I am very grateful that I did, because my life would look completely different today if it wasn't for the Wheel of Time.

Something else that struck me when thinking about this was that since 1992, I've been engrossed in epic fantasy. Now the Wheel of Time is over and eventually A Song of Ice and Fire will be over. I am not sure there will be anything to take their place; given the complications that both RJ and GRRM have run into, I am not sure epic of this particular scale will be attempted by anyone else. And if it is, I might not be as lucky in it being so very much to my tastes. There's more to life than reading fantasy, of course, but it will leave a big hole behind.
Horse Horses Murphy

Mynta the Fjordhorse

So far, the new semester has gone well. It was off to a really good start on lovely Barka (alas, she's now resting, having strained herself coming off the summer grazing with a bit much extra weight), and then I had some great dressage lesson on Nelson and Blacky and a very good round of jumping on Nelson. He's really become very co-operative and fun to ride.

Which brings me to my last lesson, on Mynta the Fjordhorse. She is very much a Fjordhorse and a mare, which means she isn't terribly interested in co-operating with anyone. In particular, she tends to try and avoid any and all work by just steaming on like a little locomotive. With a short, square neck, she ends up putting a lot of strain on my arms if I end up in a tug-of-war with her. And, of course, a tug-of-war with a horse is a pretty pointless activity.

When I've ridden her in the past, for various instructors, I've had different suggestions. Some want her packaged together, to get her to accept that she can't just go at her own speed. Some have suggested lots of circling and over-bending to try and get through to her incredibly stiff right side and her somewhat less stiff left side.

None of this has really worked well for me so far. She clearly gets stressed if you ask too much, which isn't strange given that physically speaking, she must choke herself a bit if she brings her head in. So, trying to pack her together isn't going to work, except possibly at a walk, where she does wait and listen a bit more.

But there's also the just plain stubborn side of her to consider. She is a Fjordhorse and she is a mare. That's a combination that leads to a pretty darn independent horse. So far, I am not getting through to her with either polite requests or firm demands, so the lessons do end up being rather more confrontational than I like. I don't mind a stubborn pony that cleverly tries to get out of work in all sorts of ways, that's just stimulating, but "run-run-run" gets tedious.
Horse Horses Murphy

A Big Deal

I took most of the summer off from even glancing at the various blogs on the site, but since the new semester at the riding school started this week it might be time to get back to some posting. Especially since this week's lesson was a big deal, to follow up on the big deal that ended last semester.

You see, on the whole last semester was a bit of a wash. We had a new instructor lined up and I do like her, but she was absent for quite a few lessons due to illness (she has young children) and we ended up with substitutes of varying quality. As a result, there really wasn't much cohesive training or any particular progress. In fact, I was quite close to deciding that I would quit and look at some other stable (as two of my friends ultimately ended up doing).

But then we came to the last lesson before the summer break. We were going to jump in the paddock and I was a bit nervous about riding Digression; he jumps fine indoors but gets just a bit frisky and he's large enough (aka not a pony or close to it) that it makes me a little jittery. Then one of the other riders didn't show up and Barka, one of the new horses, ended up without a rider.

Barka is a Polish import, eight years old, and I had been eyeing her since she arrived since she's probably just an inch or two from being a pony and with that sort of nice, square build that I like. We think there's some Spanish blood in her, she's got a nice back-end, a curly mane and a pretty high-stepping action.

So, despite never having ridden her, I asked if I could jump her in the paddock instead of Digression. I got the okay and I was determined to make this work.

It did work. Superbly, in fact. She was a little fidgety, but not tense. I could feel I was sitting into her rather than on top of her. She also turned out to be incredibly sensitive and a very honest jumper; we wobbled a bit coming into some jumps and she went over them anyway. She clearly hasn't jumped much before since the first time she jumped at the stables, she jumped about twice as high as she had to. It wasn't as extreme this time, but she's clearly still learning. I was in heaven, pretty much.

Fast forward to this Tuesday, when I showed up for the first lesson this semester. I had been assigned Mynta, the very stubborn Fjordhorse, but once again Barka ended up without a rider. I asked again, could I change? Yes, I could. Then, the other news; we were going to be riding on a nearby field. Not out on a trek, but still, we'd have to trek along the road to get there. My nerves set in again, but I didn't want to miss the chance to ride Barka again.

So, I decided to give it a go. She was very calm riding to the field, but once there she suddenly found a lot of energy and people with cameras and people running past on the road became reasons to jump this way and that.

But I didn't give up. In fact, I had a thoroughly enjoyable lesson, not a sick-to-the-stomach-with-nerves lesson. Some of it was the fact that the grass was quite tall and seemed soft -- I figured a fall wouldn't be that bad -- but I also felt that she really listened to me. Yes, she'd jump away from this and yes, she'd canter instead of trot, but she has a wonderful mouth and she really listens when you ask her to come back. I felt as if I could handle her.

I don't think I want to trek out on her just yet, but other than that, I feel absolutely great about how much I've dared to do on her already. Sadly, she's very unlike Murphy in one way; she's a very popular horse at the stables. I still miss my grumpy and misunderstood Irish boy very much, but even if Barka doesn't need any extra help to be happy at the stables, she's quite irresistible.

Crushed by Success

So. Westeros.org is presently a bit like one of Stannis's men at the Blackwater: screaming, flailing, covered in flames.

But there is good news: we've finally lined up a new server. A server with much more hard disk (not really that important I think, but what do I know?), a much snappier CPU (about 70% faster, according to PassMark), a handy backup/imaging service (apparently reduces some of Sparks's work) and ... ta-da, 8GB of RAM (that's four times what the old server had) which is especially important. And for various reasons, the price bump is less than the cost of what we expected simply upgrading the old server to 4GB of ram would be. Shiny.

Sparks was willing to try and move everything over, but it was already 2AM for her once she had the server set up, so I shooed her off. Some time in the Pacific evening -- and barring unforseen circumstances -- the forum and wiki will be moving to shiny, spacious new digs. With luck, everything will run without an issue and the beefed up server will mean that the lag and delays are a thing of the past.

Sparks will likely upgrade Westeros.org proper's server some time in the summer, too, which should be helpful. Though depending on how things go I'm kind of wondering whether it wouldn't make sense to move Westeros.org and Blood of Dragons MUSH onto the same box as the forum and the wiki, provided we can have Apache serve up the website since it depends a lot on .htaccess and lighttpd is massively different...

Anyways. That's the update here, since I can't seem to update the presently-swamped website or forum. ;)

It Wasn't a Puppy After All

I think I’ve finally managed to come up with an adequate comparison to illustrate the depth of my disappointment with the second season of Game of Thrones.

It is a bit like waiting for years for a puppy. You’re eager, you’re nervous, you’re really, really expectant. But you also know it is likely that it won’t be exactly as you have imagined, so you try to keep your expectations realistic.

Then you get your puppy and it is all very exciting. After a while, you start noticing that it is not all fun and games with this puppy; it is a bit hard to train and sometimes you get quite upset because it just isn’t working out. But at the end of your first year with the puppy, you are still very happy because it is a lovely puppy, all considered.

Next year doesn’t start out so well, however. The puppy is being more difficult again. There are some glimmers of hope, though, and you struggle on for those.

Then, the bombshell hits. Your puppy isn’t actually a puppy. It is revealed to be a large rat dressed up in a puppy costume. You can keep trying to pretend it is a puppy, but that will never make it one. If you like rats, you might still be able to make do with the rat, but if you don’t…well, you’re out of luck.

That’s where I am at now with Game of Thrones. I don’t particularly dislike rats, but I am not really fond of them either. And I can’t stop thinking about the puppy.

On "The Song of Achilles"

I really ought to write a proper review, but with everything being so busy right now, I don't feel as if I can collect my thoughts enough. But I do need to write something.

This Friday, Elio and I picked up the Kindle edition of Madeline Miller's The Song of Achilles on a recommendation from a friend. Now, retellings are a sensitive business for me. There's a couple of stories -- or rather, story cycles -- that I feel so strongly about that the "wrong" interpretation will, without fail, set my teeth on edge. One such is the Arthurian legends. Another, even more dear to my heart, is the Trojan cycle. These story cycles are among the first stories I remember reading (or having read to me) and they are at the heart of my love for myth and history. If I had not fallen in love with them, I don't think I would be a reader of fantasy or a student of classical history.

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Horse Horses Murphy

From Myth to Reality

I haven't horseblogged in ages, but I am currently having a major procrastination phase (my Master's thesis may turn into my dissertation proposal or I may switch my basic idea for the dissertation from horses in Greek myth and religion to Roman horse racing or possibly even defixiones) so I am finding all sorts of things to do, bouncing from one to the other like I've had too much coffee. Except, I don't drink coffee at all.

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Male & Female Authors

A few days ago, Kate Elliott and Katherine Kerr both posted on their LJs about women and fantasy. Now, gender issues aren't perhaps my favourite issues, but this time the subject caught my attention because I do think we've seen a frustrating development of fantasy in the last decade. Male writers write more and more "macho" stuff (gritty, violent, bleak, etc) and female writers write more and more romance.

I like the middle ground. ASoIaF is, for me, part of the middle ground, though it seems clear that certain aspects of it are the reason for the male writers going towards one end of the spectrum. The reason for the female writers moving towards the other end seems like it is often publisher-driven; they are being told its the only thing that sells.

I used to read a pretty equal amount of male and female authors. I didn't care (and I still don't) about the gender of the author. But what has happened over the last years is that I've pretty much stopped picking up new male authors. Not because they're male but because they don't write anything I am interested in.

Elio and I used to read a lot of the same things. Now it pretty much only happens with authors we were already reading, not with new authors. And it seems to be harder and harder to find the sort of middle ground fantasy that I like.

As a bit of an offshoot of this train of thought, I ended up considering the authors that get discussed (and that post) on the Westeros forums. I rather wish we had some female authors show up as well. There are plenty that ought to appeal to readers of ASoIaF, unless they are of the variety that never reads any other fantasy.